Fair Questions: Is Rural America the real bubble?

There’s been a lot of talk about how the so-called coastal elites are living in a cultural bubble that has kept them from understanding the rest of America.  Patrick Thornton pushed back on that narrative in his piece entitled, “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.”

In it, he makes some good points.  And I can relate some of his experience.  The difference is that I moved to a coastal city from a remote rural area when I was much younger than he did.  I was born in the hills of southeast Kentucky.  I was raised in a coastal city in Texas. I grew up with friends who immigrated here from all over the world (except Antarctica), friends who were gay and had different religions or no religion, friends who had a wide variety of political beliefs.

In some ways, that does force us out of a bubble. The problem is that we’re almost always in a multi-layered bubble and rarely venture beyond one or two layers. I’ve passed in and out of various cultural bubbles, the more homogeneous rural bubble, the more heterogeneous coastal elite bubble, and many others. My experience has been that while coastal elites may have a more multi-colored bubble, they are very much in a bubble.

I tend to agree with Thornton that we need to be compassionate and try to understand each other. I agree that rural America is often a bubble too, with all the problems that entails. I’m less convinced that the way out of the rural America bubble is to make rural Americans more like coastal elites or more like me by exposing them to the same ethnic diversity, religious diversity, and sexual diversity that we’ve been exposed to.

It may do to them what it’s done to many coastal elites: give them a veneer of independence of mind and worldliness while they run in the same social circles, trade in the same economic and political ideas, share the same (not actually clever) memes, uncritically criticize everything using the same analytical frameworks without understanding their limits, and watch the same television shows that present their moral intuitions as obviously correct.

By all means, let’s all step outside of our bubbles more often. And let’s step outside of our bubbles in ways that we might not readily think to do so because in our bubble we have trouble seeing that each bubble we leave is nested within another, and another, and another.

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